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February 17, 2009
Cambodia launches trial of Khmer Rouge official

Reminders of the Khmer Rouge regime.

On Tuesday, Cambodia began the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, or “Duch,” who ran the Tuol Sleng prison and torture center during the Khmer Rouge regime.

From 1975 to 1979, more than 1.7 million people were killed or died under the Communist regime, which sought to shift to a “pure” society, moving city-dwellers to the country and executing the educated.

Several other leaders of the regime are in custody, though Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

Blogger “Adam Bray” in Cambodia writes about the mood in the country:

While the five on trial are most certainly guilty of the crimes they are charged [with], there is a sense that they are being used as symbolic scapegoats while so many guilty people go free.

Its interesting to note that most Cambodians don’t seem to want revenge. They merely want those guilty to confess their crimes, express remorse, and explain why they did what they did. Those seeking revenge seem to more often be foreign observers.

A blogger at “This Khmerican Life” recounts her family’s experience of the Khmer Rouge years:

My mom and dad lost almost their all of their immediate family members (both sets of parents, seven out of nine siblings, plus countless extended family and friends) during the Khmer Rouge regime and the preceding bombings of the country. I cannot begin to describe what my parents or other Cambodians went through because now, even after many years of trying to wrap my mind around it, I cannot even begin to surmise what that level of loss might feel like. There are certain acts that speak volumes on their own and provide lucid illustrations of what loss looks like: My parents’ prolonged silence when they are struck by certain memories at inopportune moments; my surviving aunties’ matter-of-fact manner of discussing horrific acts committed against and in front of them; every one’s intense dedication to family and community . . . . well, sometimes loss simply cannot be articulated through words alone.

Watch an account from a man imprisoned in the Tuol Sleng prison, where at least 14,000 died, from Al Jazeera’s “First Person” series:

An American in Cambodia, “Jason,” also writes at France24’s “Observer” blog that foreigners seem to perceive the Khmer Rouge atrocities differently:

Mainly because the country is full of young people who weren’t around at that time. Young people are interested what affects them directly; rising petrol prices, the newest and coolest motorbike, wrestling- the American Wrestling Federation is very popular here. For them, the Khmer Rouge regime is something from the past, and there’s no point in talking about it. Maybe the Cambodian people have a strange sense of time. For us, history is very important. But here, a year feels like an eternity. In the end, Khmer Rouge is something that interests foreign media more than the locals. That’s not to say that it’s not an important subject for some here, but it’s clearly not something the majority cares about.

Photo courtesy of flydime under a Creative Commons license.

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